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HID Lighting 101

Posted 03-23-2004 at 04:12 PM by TheGSRGuy

p.p1 {margin: 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px; font: 12.0px Helvetica} p.p2 {margin: 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px; font: 12.0px Helvetica; min-height: 14.0px} HID Lighting 101

CONVENTIONS In this article, we will use the following conventions:
K = kelvin V = volts W = watts lm = lumens OEM = original equipment manufacturer

What is HID lighting, and how does it work? HID is an acronym for High Intensity Discharge. HID is a more efficient way of producing light than a standard filament-based bulb.
Standard Incandescent light bulbs have a filament, which is a tiny spiral of tungsten metal inside of a sealed quartz glass bulb. Also inside the bulb is halogen gas, which combines with tungsten vapor to glow very brilliantly when a current is applied.Halogen headlamp bulbs produce from 800-1300 lumens of light with a color temperature of approximately 3200k. A halogen bulb is approximately 9% efficient.
HID lighting works on a different principle. Rather than heating up a filament, electrical current is used to produce an arc of light between two electrodes inside a sealed capsule of xenon gas, mercury, and metal halide salts. There is no physical filament - the filament is the xenon gas. A typical HID capsule has an output of 3200 lumens, compared to halogen's 800-1300. The color temperature is approximately 4100k, which is why the lights have a whiter appearance. However, HID capsules require complicated electronics known as ballasts and ignitors. They are usually found in a small box places somewhere in the engine bay. HID capsules are approximately 85% efficient.
Why HID? The biggest selling point of HID has been the increased light output. Even the best halogen headlamp bulbs are only outputting 1300 lumens from 55W of current. HIDs are able to output 3200 lumens using 35W of current. This means that an HID lighting system is outputting nearly triple the usable light of a halogen light.
For cosmetic reasons, some people prefer the look of HID. The whiter light can be very eye-catching, and often conveys that your car is expensive.

HID systems are more complicated than a typical headlamp system. Halogen headlamp systems are simple: they contain a single halogen bulb. HID systems use a capsule, ballast, and ignitor.
The Capsule Capsules are what we call HID "bulbs". They are similar in appearance to a halogen bulb, but upon closer inspection we will learn they are quite different.
A standard headlamp bulb is a molded plastic base with alignment tabs and a rubber gasket. The bulb is suspended with metal clips to allow for heat expansion and contraction. The glass bulb contains is filled with halogen gas and has a tiny piece of tungsten, which is the filament. When 12.8 volts of DC current is applied to the filament, it glows and produces light. The halogen gas helps make the filament more efficient, though halogen bulbs are only 9% efficient at best.
HID capsules use a very similar molded-plastic base. Again we see metal tabs holding a long, thin piece of glass. There is also a ceramic insulator running the length of the glass. At the very center of this glass there is actually no filament. This center section, which appears as a tiny sphere, contains the metal salts that produce the light. The salts are pressurized at nearly 100 atmospheres and are actually vaporized when current is applied. The gas that is produced is actually the filament, and is nearly 85% efficient.
The Ballast Electrical ballasts control the current to the HID capsule. A typical HID capsule needs 85 volts of current at 35 watts to function, though newer capsules accomplish this with only 42 volts. A car's electrical system cannot provide anything close to this voltage, hence the ballast is used.
Ballasts are also called "control gear" or "inductors", depending on the application. Ballasts are actually used in many other lighting systems, such as neon lamps and fluorescent lamps; they are simpler versions, often just a series resistor.
Ballasts often appear as small metal cases roughly the size of a deck of playing cards.
The Ignitor The ignitor works with the ballast and provides several thousand volts of rapidly pulsed current between the electrodes to vaporize the metallic salts. You can see the ignitor work by simply turning on an HID system -- the quick flash you see is the ignitor providing the ultra-high voltage needed to start the HID system.
Ignitors can be contained within the ballast assembly to reduce complexity, or they can be a separate assembly just before the HID capsules.
In summation, there are 3 main components to an HID lighting system: -Capsule: incorrectly called the "bulb", this produces the actual light -Ballast: turns the car's 12V into 85V for the capsules to work -Ignitor: ignites the metal salt in the capsule at startup

These days, HID systems are available from almost every auto manufacturer. Originally reserved for luxury brands like BMW and Mercedes, falling costs and simplification of these systems has made them available in smaller and less expensive vehicles.
It is important to briefly discuss OEM HID systems since these are the only truly legal way to have HID lighting in most countries.
An OEM HID installation contains the following: -Philips or Osram-Sylvania 4100k capsules -Philips or Osram-Sylvania electronics -Specially-designed headlamp optics
In short, Philips and Osram-Sylvania are the ONLY OEM HID companies. No matter which make and model car you buy, it will contain Philips or Osram-Sylvania HID components. McCulloch, GE, and anyone else claiming to be an OEM is flat-out lying.
4100k is the ONLY OEM HID color temperature. There are very strict DOT/ECE laws regarding headlamp color, making 6000k and up illegal. All OEM HID lights produce the exact same color light; the headlamp optics may change it slightly, as will the age of the system.
Again, remember: Philips or Osram-Sylvania 4100k capsules are what every single OEM HID system uses.

HID HEADLAMP ASSEMBLIES HID systems are not just the capsules and ballasts/ignitors. HID systems rely on special headlamp designs to better utilize their light output. This is often the reason that a factory HID upgrade can be over $1,000 -- you are getting different headlamp housings too.
Why is this important? It is important in the context of putting HID capsules in headlamps not designed for them.

Factory Housings HID capsules do not spread their light 360 degrees like a filament-based bulb does. This means that the lenses and reflectors must aim the light in a very specific way or there will be large hotspots and dark areas.
Looking head-on at an HID capsule, there is a yellow/orange area pointing downwards. This area always points down, regardless of how the capsule is rotated. HID headlamp systems actually block this area entirely. If not blocked, a strange yellow area would be projected on the ground, causing the rest of the headlamp to appear discolored. Some systems spread this yellow area out across a very wide area so as to make it hard to see.
There is also something known as a return-wire shadow. The small ceramic insulator that runs the length of the glass will actually cause a dark spot if the capsule is viewed head-on. A car with factory HID will have headlamps that hide this shadow; halogen headlamps will have a dead spot where this wire sits, usually at the bottom.
These two factors are the biggest contributor to glare and hotspots on non-factory HID installations. It is virtually impossible to correct them sort of installing different headlamps.
Additionally, the headlamp pattern is different on HID systems. When viewed frown directly overhead, the HID system will cover a larger area. So not only do HID systems put down more lumens on the pavement, they better spread it across the lanes ahead of you.
Of particular note to our cars is the chrome housing between the projector and outer clear plastic. This decorative area is intentionally illuminated by the headlamp system. The projector is designed to reflect a certain amount of light into this area, meaning that some light is wasted. The only solution for this is to replace the projectors.

Installing New Projectors Rather than using the less-efficient halogen projectors, many people opt to replace the entire projector assembly with an HID-specific one. This can improve the light output significantly, but at increased cost and installation time.
Clear Projectors The projectors appear to be perfectly clear and have a smooth surface. American vehicles do not use these. Clear projectors give better forward illumination at the expense of spread (side-to-side illumination). These are generally NOT legal for US road use.
Ribbed Projectors The projectors appear to have bands or ribs across them horizontally. This helps spread the light to the sides more effectively, but decreases the forward distance you can see. This is the projector most commonly found in American vehicles.
Our cars use a modified ribbed projector that reflects the light back into the chrome housing for aesthetic purposes.

"Best" Projectors Since all cars use the same color temperature and brightness HID capsules, why do some cars really appear to have brighter headlamps? The answer lies in the optics. Some cars use optics that are not as efficient; this is generally due to aesthetic reasons, not poor engineering.
The carpassion.info HID database lists the following vehicles as having the brightest projector headlamp assemblies. You should research these to find out if they will work in your particular application.
-Honda S2000 (DOT) -2002+ BMW 5-series (DOT) -2002+ BMW 7-series (DOT) -1999+ Audi S4 (ECE) -2001+ Infiniti Q45 (DOT)
What's interesting here is that only a single European headlamp appears here, despite the hype that ECE headlamp regulations are better than DOT.

Like anything else, there are several brands and models of HID capsules. This section will provide you with information on the various capsules available in OEM applications and through the aftermarket.

Capsule Types Headlamp bulbs use designations like 9006, 9007, H3, and H11. For HID systems, there are fewer part numbers. Rather than forcing the bulb manufacturers to design a variety of sizes and fitments, the responsibility falls more on auto manufacturers to design headlights that are more universal in their bulb/capsule fitments.
For HID capsules, there are two mainstream capsule designations: D2S and D2R. There are some less-common sizes, like D1S, D1R, D3S, D3R, D4S, and D4R.
The D2S Capsule D2S is short for "discharge second generation shielded". These are found in vehicles that have projector headlamps.
You can spot a D2S capsule by looking at the glass -- if there is no metal shielding around the glass, you have a D2S. D2S actually provides about 10% more light than the identical D2R part.
The D2R Capsule D2R is short for "discharge second generation reflection". These are found in vehicles that have reflector headlamps.
The D2R capsule can be identified by looking for the small metal shields at various points on the glass. The D2R capsule was originally developed in the mid-1990s for Mercedes so they could continue using reflector headlamps, as opposed to BMW who had moved to more efficient projectors.
Using a D2R capsule in a projector headlamp will result in less light output and strange dark spots.
The D1x, D3x, and D4x Capsules D1S/D1R capsules have the ignitor built into the base of the HID capsule. This simplifies the system since the ultra-high voltage from the ignitor never travels through the engine bay. Philips markets D1S/D1R as "XenStart".
D3x and D4x are mercury-free systems. These are slowly beginning to appear since they are more environmentally friendly. Note that the voltage in these systems is almost half that of a standard D1x/D2x system. You cannot use the same electronics.

Colorshifting HID capsules undergo a process known as colorshifting. TThis first 100 hours may have the light producing a more yellow looking color -- this is completely normal and safe.
After the first 100 hours of operation, the salts will begin to change their color slightly as they are "broken in". By the time the 500 hour mark is reached, the color will have shifted up by as much as 250k to around 4350k. The coloring will be slightly more blue.
Colorshiting will continue until the capsules no longer function. The shifting is extremely gradual and low. Even after 1500 hours, the color will only have shifter to 4600k, and to 5000k in 2500 hours. (2500 hours is equivalent to roughly 5 years of use)
You may have seen HID systems with extreme colorshift already. Early HID systems, such as on the Lincoln Mark VIII and Acura TL, might be appearing purple or pink as of late 2007. These systems are more than 6 years old.
Along with this colorshift comes a reduction in the number of lumens, but don't panic -- the decrease is very small. Below is a simple table of the approximate decrease in light output at given intervals. This is merely an approximation, as some systems may wear out more quickly than others.
0 hours = 3200 lumens (100%) 200 hours = 2880 lumens (90%) 1000 hours = 2560 lumens (80%) 1500 hours = 2400 lumens (75%) 2000 hours = 2240 lumens (70%)
So even after 4 or 5 years, a typical HID system will still be putting out double the light of a halogen bulb.

Philips Capsules Philips is one of the two OEM HID manufacturers. This section will discuss the various Philips capsules available, and how they differ from Osram-Sylvania.
Markings All Philips HID capsules will start with "P32-d". "d2" denotes D2S, and "d3" denotes D2R. After P32-d, you will see the one of the following part numbers:
85122 D2S 4100k This is the standard D2S OEM capsule. It produces a bluish-white color with a slight green tone. The coloring is approximately 4100k, and light output is 3200lm +/-450.
85122+ D2S Color Match Plus 5000k These lights are specially designed to output light at 5000K, and are used as replacements only. The 5000K coloring is used to more closely match a used capsule in the other headlamp.
85122WX D2S Ultinon 6000k This is an aftermarket-only capsule marketed outside of North America and Europe. It produces light at roughly 5800k color temperature, making it appear more purplish-white. They output 2400lm, +/-250lm of light.
These were never installed as factory components, regardless of what you read. Authentic Ultinon capsules have a blue ceramic insulator and red metallic salts; the authentic ones are made in Aachen, Germany. They will read "Not legal for use in Europe/USA", and may have part number BL-2 depending on their date of manufacture.
85123 D2S 4100k This is the OEM capsule for BMW. It is nearly identical to the 85122 capsule, though it is unofficially producing light slightly bluer with a hint of purple. This part number is not listed in the Philips catalog, but it is an authentic part. It is unknown why BMW uses a different capsule. The coloring is approximately 4100k (though it is believed to be closer to 4300k), and light output is again 3200lm +/-450.
85126 D2R 4100k This is the other basic OEM capsule. Color is roughly 4100k, with light output being slightly lower at 2800lm due to the shielding.
85126+ D2R Color Match Plus 5000k These lights are specially designed to output light at 5000K, and are used as replacements only. The 5000K coloring is used to more closely match a used capsule in the other headlamp. They are the counterpart to the 85122+.
85126WX D2R Ultinon 6000k This is the D2R counterpart to the 85122WX. Again, light output is roughly 2400lm at about 5800k color. Remember that this was never an OEM capsule and was sold in the aftermarket only outside North America and Europe.

Picking the right Philips capsule 99.999% of people should use the 85122 or 85126, as these are the two OEM capsules in every car on the road. They are the legal 4100k color.
The Color Match Plus capsules should only be used if one capsule dies prematurely, as they are designed to look color-shifted.
The Ultinon capsules (part numbers ending in WX) are illegal in North America and Europe, and should only be used for their aesthetic properties. While it is true that their 2400lm of output is still nearly double that of a standard halogen bulb, the color is not easy on the eyes and tends to attract unwanted attention from law enforcement. Installing a 6000k capsule is a sure-fire way to announce "I have an illegal HID system."
Something else to consider is that higher color temperatures will make things appear differently. Street signs are designed to be viewed with particular color temperature lights, and a non-standard color may alter their appearance. The same applies to road markers and emergency vehicles.

Osram-Sylvania Capsules
Less information is available about these capsules. Osram-Sylvania offers fewer products, preferring to stay away from the 5000k "replacement" capsules and the 6000k "show" capsules.
Osram-Sylvania has never made anything other than 4100k. There is no such thing as an Osram-Sylvania 6000k capsule.
There are only two Osram-Sylvania capsules: D2S and D2R, both at 4100k. They are often marketed as "Osram Xenarc".
It is said that Osram-Sylvania capsules are slightly more yellow in color than Philips capsules, and hence are easier on the eyes. This is somewhat objective since we all perceive color differently (much like how we all have different senses of hearing, taste, etc). The eye is slightly more sensitive towards yellows, however, so this is not totally without merit.

GE Capsules
General Electric does not make any OEM HID components. The GE items are sold by dealers as replacements for the OEM pieces, usually because they are cheaper. They are still a quality component, but are not true OEM-quality.
GE currently only sells 5000k capsules in the D2R and D2S sizes. The 5000k color choice is similar to the Philips Color Match Plus principle: they can be used to replace a single dead capsule without having to replace the other.
These capsules are certainly better than the no-name ones out there, but are not necessarily as good as Philips or Osram-Sylvania.

Capsule Summary Look for Osram-Sylvania or Philips capsules. GE is acceptable, though not the best solution. 4100k is going to offer the best light output at 3200 lumens. Stick with D2S for our headlamps, as D2R will cause strange deadspots and generally give off less light.

BALLASTS AND IGNITORS EXPLAINED IN-DEPTH Again, there are different ballast types. Depending on the application, custom ballasts might be built. It is impossible for us to explore every single ballast in existence, so this section will examine the generic ones.

Philips LVQ-212 This is the quintessential HID ballast. It is very recognizable and used in many applications. The LVQ-212 has a built-in ignitor. It can only be used with D2S and D2R capsules.
The casing is unfinished aluminum and slightly thicker than a deck of cards. A large black label gives the specifications in large white text. Look for the Philips logo and emblem, as the label is often copied sans the Philips logo on cheap knock-offs.
There are two connectors on the end of the ballast. These connectors are actually the exact same as a 9006 headlamp bulb, but YOU SHOULD NOT PLUG A HALOGEN BULB INTO THEM. The 9006 fitting is used to keep things simple.
Between the two connectors is a small vent to allow for any heat and moisture to escape. Note that the LVQ-212 is not water proof, and can only take light splashes. If you are concerned about the ballasts being damaged by water, there are a variety of aftermarket cases made for this model.
The LVQ-212 contains an "auto shut-off" feature that disables the HID system in the event of a collision. This is to protect rescue workers from being electrocuted, and to prevent a spark from igniting leaking fuel.

Philips LVQ-212 L300 These appear to be identical to the standard LVQ-212. They are interchangeable with the LVQ-212, and are merely the European version.

Philips XLD-145 This is a newer-style ballast without an integrated ignitor. They are the same length and width as the LVQ-212 ballasts, but are roughly 1/4 as thick. They are much easier to mount than the LVQ-212.
Note that these do not have the integrated ignitor, meaning that you will have a small ignitor placed inline with the wiring somewhere before the capsule.
The XLD-145 can be used with D2S, D2R, D1S, and D1R capsules.

Philips XenStart This does not contain an ignitor, and is designed to be used ONLY with XenStart D1S and D1R capsules.

Hella Hella ballasts and Philips ballasts are nearly identical. These are interchangeable. The differences are currently unknown, and are very minor. It is believed that they are both produced by the same company.
The Hella Generation 3 ballasts look identical to the Philips ones, with the Hella logo taking the place of the Philips one.
Note that Hella has never made capsules, they only make the electronics.

Bosch These ballasts were OEM on some Audis and BMWs. They do not have ignitors built-in. The Bosch ballasts are contained within a large gray plastic housing to give some weather-resistance, but this casing can be removed to improve mounting and fitment locations.
The Bosch ballasts are very similar in size to the Philips XLD-145. They are compatible with D2S, D2R, D1S, and D1R capsules.
Authentic Bosch ballasts/ingnitors are unfinished metal. They will read "Made in France" underneath a barcode. They do not have the typical red BOSCH logo printed anywhere on them. Much like Hella, Bosch has never made HID capsules, only the electronics.

Mounting HID Electronics Improper mounting can lead to shorter lifespan, or even an unsafe electrical condition. This section will give you tips and suggestions on how to install and mount your system so as to prevent damage and unsafe conditions.
BAD: -mounting on something that vibrates -mounting on something that gets very hot -mounting with double-sided tape or velcro -mounting near hood seams where water can enter -mounting with wiring and vents facing up
OKAY: -mounting with wire-ties -mounting with wiring and vents facing sideways -using car body as "ground"
BEST: -mounting with brackets & screws -mounting with wiring and vents facing downwards -mounting inside weather-resistant cases -using established grounding points -mounting away from hood seams

Other Ballast/Ignitor Information The electronics should never be tampered with. Never, under any circumstances, open the ballasts or ignitors.
Although the actual design of a ballast and ignitor is very simple, attempting to make your own is not a good idea. Cheap HID systems often use poorly-engineered electronics that do not provide the appropriate voltage, or that may artificially change the HID system color with non-standard voltage output.
Osram-Sylvania has never made HID ballasts or ignitors, regardless of what resellers may claim. Osram-Sylvania only produces the capsules, not the electronics. Many cars with Osram-Sylvania capsules rely on Hella/Philps or Bosch electronics to function. Don't be scammed into thinking you have Osram-Sylvania electronics -- they simply don't exist.

Electronics Summary Stick with Philips, Hella, or Bosch electronics. Osram-Sylvania has never produced the ballasts or ignitors, so avoid any kit claiming to have those. Some ballasts contain ignitors, but some do not. Make sure you have both pieces, regardless of whatever you buy. Cheap electronics cause the capsule color to be weird, and can damage the car's electrical system.

HID SAFETY & LONGEVITY HID systems are complicated and potentially dangerous if you are careless and sloppy in their installation and use. They can also wear out very quickly if you do not install and maintain them properly. This section will discuss how to keep yourself safe, and how to ensure your HID system functions for years to come.

Safety The ballast and ignitor is carrying roughly 23,000V at 85W. You should never work on an HID system that is plugged in and turned on. Disconnect the system and remove it from the car if possible.
You should never, under any circumstances, open up the electronics. A short-circuit could send stored charge in a capacitor into your body. You also risk damaging the electronics.
Ensure that your wiring is well-insulated and has good grounding points. Any tears in the insulation should be repaired immediately. Inspect your wiring regularly for any damage. Good grounding points will help the system function properly, and will keep you safe. Use established grounding points in the engine bay; don't make your own unless absolutely necessary.
Handle the capsules with care. The tiny glass sphere is pressurized at nearly 100ATM; breaking this will send glass flying into your skin, and will release toxic gases. Wear gloves if possible. This will keep the oils from your skin off the capsule. Should you touch the capsule with your bare skin, lightly rub the capsule with rubbing alcohol (never immerse it in liquid).
Most importantly, never power on the system if the capsule is not securely fastened in the headlamp housing. Staring directly at the capsule can cause blindness.

Longevity HID systems can last for more than 2500 hours if installed and cared for correctly. Although HID systems are somewhat of an "install and forget" component, there are some simple tasks you can perform during and after installation to improve longevity.
First and foremost, mount and secure everything tightly. Loose components will vibrate and wear out more quickly. Capsules should seal tightly into the headlamp housing, and should have virtually no play when wiggled. Ballasts and ignitors should be securely fastened as well.
Periodic inspections of the system will help you find any problems. Double-check that the wiring is not cut or torn, and that insulation is still holding. Wiggle the electrical connectors to ensure they are still snug.
Follow the 5-minute rule. If you must power on the system, let it run for at least 5 minutes. This ensures that the salts reach their optimal operating temperature. Short usage times will severely decrease the useful life of the salts, meaning colorshift will occur much more quickly. If you turn the system off, keep it powered down for at least 5 minutes so the salts can properly return to a powder.
Never run the HIDs for more than 3 hours at a time. After 3 hours, let the system stay powered off for 5 minutes or more before you turn it on again. This may make nighttime road trips more tricky, but it will give you a chance to pull over and rest.

ANALYZING YOUR HID INSTALL The more of these conditions you meet, the better results you will get from your HID system. Remember that nothing ever beats a factory HID install, but you can certainly get close.
-Philips or Osram-Sylvania 4100k D2S capsule -Philips, Hella, or Bosch ballasts/ignitors -Projectors from factory HID system -Headlamp housings from factory HID system -Sturdy mounting points for all components

CONCLUSION HID systems are a great way to improve your nighttime visibility and even improve the looks of your car. With nearly three times the usable light of a halogen bulb, you are making an investment in your safety.
Be weary of aftermarket HID kits -- there are many cheap systems that use poorly-designed components. Stick with the big brands, and make certain they are reputable and legitimate sellers. You truly do get what you pay for in HID kits. Companies like Philips and Osram-Sylvania have spent billions on R&D costs for HID alone.

LEGAL STUFF: Installing an HID system in a car that did not come equipped with it from the factory is 100% illegal for on-road use in the United States. I am not responsible for any tickets you receive for your HID install.
I am not responsible for any injuries or damages you suffer from your HID system. I have done as much research as possible on this topic, but I am no substitute for an HID manufacturer. Please be smart, and when in doubt, DON'T INSTALL HID SYSTEMS.
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  1. Old Comment
    just read through this whole thread. thanks for the info!

    is it true that HIDs can only be running for about 3 hours at a time??
    Posted 02-24-2013 at 03:05 AM by federer federer is offline

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